What is writer’s block?
Picture this. You’ve been mentally preparing to start or continue writing something you’re excited about. Maybe it’s a TV pilot, a short film, or even a feature. You finally sit down in front of your laptop screen (or your notebook if you’re old school).
This is it! Suddenly, your mind draws a total blank. Sound familiar?
If you’re a writer, chances are you’ve experienced writer’s block too many times to count. We’ve all been there, and there’s no question that it’s not a fun thing to feel. As daunting as it may seem when you’re in the thick of it, there are proven strategies to overcome this dreaded phenomenon.
Try out one or two of these strategies and get right back on the writing path. Once you come out the other side, you’ll feel all types of victorious and stronger than you did before!
How to Overcome Writer’s Block
- Set Manageable Goals
- Find a Collaborator
- Work It Out
- Follow a Routine
- Write Something Else
- Gain Inspiration
- Hone Your Craft
- Prompts Are Your Friends
- Outlines Save the Day
- Channel your Inner Interior Designer
- Reward Yourself
- Switch It Up
- Phone a Friend
- Journal Your Heart Out
- Do the Thing
- Dare to Fail
1: Set Manageable Goals
When you have nothing but a blank page sitting in front of you, there are few things more intimidating than thinking about your ultimate end goal. An entire, polished, producible script? With this mindset, it may feel like you’re setting out to accomplish the impossible, but that’s just not true.
Instead of staring at a blank page and willing the entire story to appear out of thin air, why not set a more attainable goal? How about writing five pages? How about completing two scenes? When you set small, manageable milestones, you’re setting yourself up for success. A script doesn’t get written in a day, and baby steps are the best way to make it to the finish line.
2: Find a Collaborator
Being a writer can be a lonely pursuit. If you’re feeling stuck, lacking inspiration, and don’t see a way forward, it might be time to find a collaborator.
Some of the best screenwriters out there write as part of a team. The Daniels. Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson. The Duplass Brothers. The Coen Brothers. Simon Peg and Edgar Wright. The list goes on!
There are many advantages to having a writing partner. From splitting the work, to developing story ideas together, two heads are better than one, after all! Meeting your screenwriting match isn’t always easy, but if you do find someone you connect with creatively, it’s worth giving it a shot.
3: Work It Out
When you’re trying to overcome writer’s block, one of the worst things you can do is just sit around and hope inspiration strikes. Instead of moping and lounging, get your body moving!
There’s lots of science out there which proves that exercise keeps your brain nimble. Over time, exercise improves your mood, your memory, and your overall cognitive function. What’s not to love about that?
You don’t need to be an athlete to take advantage of this strategy. Go for a brisk walk around the block, or do some gentle yoga. Every little bit will help take your brain off your fixation on the block you’re experiencing.
4: Follow a Routine
Finding time in your busy schedule to write can be a challenge, but making it not only a priority, but a planned part of your day is essential. Though inspiration is important, it’s not something you can rely on. Instead, establish a routine, and stick to it.
Many of the masters of the craft attribute their success to their daily regimen.
In his book, On Writing, prolific novelist Stephen King outlines his routine which starts at the same time, in the same place, every day, and involves a daily quota of six pages, or 2,000 words (whichever comes first). He explains that, “doing these things the same way every day seems to be a way of saying to the mind, you’re going to be dreaming soon.”
Whether you have an hour to spare in the morning, or thirty minutes before bed, designating time to your craft will pay off.
5: Write Something Else
Take some of the pressure off of yourself and pivot to something new! It’s easy to get tunnel vision about your idea if that’s the only creative project you’re focusing on. Instead, try writing something else.
Whether it’s another script, or a different medium entirely, switching gears can clear out the cobwebs. Write a poem, come up with a joke, or compose a silly song. Don’t be precious! Get something different out there, and you’ll feel better for it.
6: Gain Inspiration
What is writer’s block if not a lack of inspiration? Step away from your screen and get inspired by revisiting an old favorite piece of content. Or, give something new a go!
Rewatch a movie you couldn’t stop talking about a few years back, or read the first few chapters of that novel you’ve had on your bedside table for months. Diving into other stories can be a great, and subtly productive, form of attention diversion.
Learn from the best, and think critically about what worked so well in the films, shows, and books that have been sources of inspiration. All great artists steal, so no shame!
7: Hone Your Craft
No matter how long you’ve been a writer, there’s always more to learn. If you’re finding yourself frustrated with a lack of of ideas, or tools to figure out story structure, why not go into student mode?
There are so many great free resources at your disposal! There are blogs on craft like Celtx’s, and massive databases of scripts where you can suss out the mechanics. You can purchase books, like Save the Cat, Story, The Artist’s Way, Screenplay, or borrow them from your local library. Take everything you read with a grain of salt, use what works for you, and throw away what doesn’t.
8: Prompts Are Your Friends
You’ve got to start somewhere, so why not start with a prompt? Though it may make you feel like you’re back in high school English class, writing prompts can be your friends. They’re are a great jumping off point, and take the pressure off of the big bad blank page.
If you have a collaborator, try to take turns giving each other prompts, or you can find something that piques your interest on lists like these. You may surprise yourself with what comes out when you take your writing in a whole new direction.
9: Outlines Save the Day
As tempting as it may be to start writing scenes right off the bat, any serious writer will tell you that outlines are essential. Writing a story without an outline is like driving without a seatbelt. You may be fine at first, but when you hit a road bump, you’ll wish you had that safeguard to keep you covered.
Once you master your outline, writing your script will not only feel like a breeze, it’ll be fun! The tricky, structural parts will be behind you, and you’ll be able to switch into play mode. Certain aspects of your story may change along the way, but you’ll still be glad that you did the work ahead of time.
10: Channel your Inner Interior Designer
It may sound silly, but having a place to write that is both comfortable and nice to look at will take you far. No need to break the bank with this! Hang up a postcard that reminds you of a trip you went on, buy a new notebook, or have a bulletin board where you keep tabs on your to-do list.
Your writing environment can make all the difference. Go with your gut, and make the space your own! How do you expect the magic to happen, if your immediate surroundings don’t feel magical?
11: Reward Yourself
Rewards systems aren’t only for pets and kids! Writing is hard work, and when you manage to accomplish what you set out to do, you deserve some recognition.
Buy yourself an ice cream when you hit page 10, play video games for half an hour after finishing your outline, or allow yourself to buy that pair of shoes you’ve been eyeing when you wrap up act one. Little rewards and incentives can act as motivation to keep going.
12: Switch It Up
Even if you’ve crafted the ideal writing environment, sometimes you need a new perspective to get things going again. Different environments offer different distractions. You may find it helpful to give yourself some variety.
Spend a few hours at the library or the cafe on the corner. Hang out at your friend’s house and do some coworking. Even testing out a new room in your house could get the juices flowing.
13: Phone a Friend
Maybe you’ve not been able to find a writing partner that you mesh with. It’s hard to find that perfect creative match! Even if you’re still writing solo, other people in your life can still come in handy.
If you’re feeling stuck on a particular part of your outline, or you’re not sure if that scene you wrote makes sense, get a second opinion. Call a friend you trust, and see what they think. They don’t need to be a writer themselves to offer honest insight. You’ll be surprised how helpful their thoughts can be!
As much as you may be tempted to avoid them at all costs, deadlines exist to keep your progress on
track. No need to be too ambition with these, but challenge yourself at least a little.
It can be tricky to hold yourself accountable. Who’s going to say anything if you’re the only one who knows you missed a deadline? Consider bringing someone else into the fold who will check in to make sure you’re meeting your goals.
15: Journal Your Heart Out
If you have a lot of brain chatter going on internally preventing you from focusing on your story, give journaling a go. Journaling is a great way to get the things you’re anxious about or preoccupied with on the page and out of your mind.
Julia Cameron, the author of acclaimed creative guide, The Artist’s Way, swears by Morning Pages. Morning Pages involve doing three pages of stream-of-consciousness journaling first thing every morning. With this method, you’ll start your day with a clear head and an open mind.
16: Do the Thing
At the end of the day, the only failsafe way of beating writer’s block is to, well, write. Though it can feel debilitating and permanent, the truth is that the block you’re feeling is all in your head.
Even if nothing you get on the page is worth keeping down the road, you’ll feel so much better knowing that you’ve written something.
17: Dare to Fail
C.S. Lewis said, “Failures are finger posts on the road to achievement.” Albert Einstein said, “Failure is success in progress.” Insert your favorite inspirational quote about failure here – there are countless incredible ones for a reason!
The fact of the matter is that failure is all part of the process, and the more you do it, the closer you’ll be to success. Make big swings, take creative risks, and see where they take you!
Much like failure, writer’s block is part of life if you’re a writer. The thing that sets great writers apart from the rest is how they choose to overcome it. When you feel the fear creep in at the sight of a blank page, fear not!
Try out one of the methods above, and you’ll be back on track in no time.